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MARLBOROUGH -- The community of Immaculate Conception Parish gathered on Jan. 11 for a trilingual Mass during which Cardinal Seán O'Malley blessed the reopening of the upper church and officially installed Father Steven Clemence as the pastor.
The upper church had been undergoing renovations for almost a year, following a fire in the sacristy on Jan. 20, 2019. The sacristy and everything stored in it was destroyed, and the main church suffered water damage and smoke damage.
From that time on, Masses were held in the lower church, which accommodates about 400 people, or in other locations. Weddings and funerals had to be held in different parishes. Neighboring religious communities loaned them vessels and vestments, and even allowed the parish to use their own facilities for large occasions, such as the Easter Triduum celebrations.
Father Clemence said he received great support from the offices of the archdiocese in the aftermath of the fire. Prayers, messages, and donations also poured in from across the country.
"The generosity and the support of the people were always overwhelming," he said, speaking to The Pilot on Jan. 13.
Father Clemence expressed gratitude for the volunteers and contractors who helped to rebuild the church.
"They're not just doing their jobs, they're not just painting a wall. They understood what it was, and they did it with love. I think that the church is so beautiful because everything was made (out) of love," he said.
The entire upper church was cleaned and repainted. A new carpet, new flooring, a new light system, and a new audio system were installed. The entire sacristy had to be rebuilt and everything in it replaced. The pews were removed to be refinished and repainted.
Father Przemyslaw Kasprzak was ordained last May and assigned to Immaculate Conception Parish in June. He could not celebrate Mass in the upper church during his first several months there, and was "extremely happy" when he was finally able to do so.
"There is a saying that 'beauty will save the world.' I think this really helps people to pray, to get closer to God, because when there's something beautiful and dignified it is always a help to the people to get closer to God," Father Kasprzak told The Pilot.
The Sunday before Christmas, the parish had a procession to bring the Blessed Sacrament to the upper church. On Christmas Eve, they held their first Mass there since the fire.
"Finally being back in the church, there were no words (for) that. People were moved to tears," Father Clemence said.
Father Clemence was named pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in June 2019, but his installation ceremony was put off until they could return to the upper church.
The Jan. 11 Mass was held in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The choir had translated some songs into Spanish and Portuguese to be able to sing together.
"You could feel the joy of the people being back home, being back in their church, (a) church where many of them were baptized, (had) first Communion, Confirmation, married, where they buried loved ones," Father Clemence said.
His parents, who are missionaries, and his brother, who is also a priest, were present for his installation.
"Being trusted (with) this office of pastor is very humbling," Father Clemence told The Pilot.
The parishioners applauded enthusiastically when Cardinal O'Malley presented Father Clemence to them as their new pastor. Father Clemence said that at that moment, he could "really feel the love of God."
"The church is more than the building, it was really the community coming together," he said.